Marriage vs Domestic Partnership

Marriage vs Domestic Partnership

by | Mar 6, 2019 | Family Law

Until same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015 by the federal government, the only option for many same-sex couples who wished to enjoy similar benefits to legal marriage was domestic partnership. And while many same-sex couples opt for marriage over domestic partnership these days, there are still some who prefer the latter for various reasons.

However, the benefits offered when comparing marriage vs domestic partnership are quite substantial, so it’s important for couples unsure which option is right for them to be aware of the differences between the two.

Differences Between Marriage vs Domestic Partnership

From a legal perspective, there are five main differences between marriage vs domestic partnership that same-sex couples in California should be aware of:

1) Legal Status: Outside of California, domestic partnerships are generally not legally recognized the same as marriage. There are over 1,130 federal rights and benefits available to married couples that are not granted to legal domestic partners.

2) Medical Decisions: Many states will not allow domestic partners to make emergency and/or medical decisions for each other. Married couples have this right in all fifty states no matter what.

3) Tax Benefits: Any benefits (or penalties) given to married couples in federal tax laws are not available to domestic partners.

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4) Spousal Support: Court-ordered spousal support as a result of a legal divorce is only applicable to married couples in many states outside of California.

5) Social Security: Married couples who receive Social Security actually receive less money when they are married. Since domestic partnerships are not federally recognized, domestic partners will each receive full Social Security benefits.

Finally, while not a legal difference, there is the consideration of social status. While commonly accepted in progressive, liberal-leaning states and communities, domestic partnership may elicit negative reactions that legal marriage does not.

Ending Domestic Partnerships

In some cases, ending a domestic partnership can be much easier than going through a divorce.

In California, domestic partners may terminate a domestic partnership through an expedited procedure known as a “summary dissolution”. As long as the choice to end the relationship is mutual, the couple has been registered as domestic partners for five years or less, there are no children involved, and the couple’s financial assets and debts fall below certain dollar thresholds, they can go through this process.

For domestic partners that don’t qualify for summary dissolution, they’ll need to go through what basically amounts to a divorce. To get help with ending a domestic partnership if you don’t qualify for summary dissolution, please contact our offices today.


At Vonder Haar Law Offices, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 529-3200.

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